Lichen – cryptogams
Lichens are not part of the plant kingdom but are part of the group called cryptogams. These produce spores instead of seed and include the fungi, mosses, liverworts and algae. Lichens are unique and are the result of a partnership between fungi and algae: the fungus provides the structure and the alga provides the energy through photosynthesis.
They play an important role in the ecosystem: contributing to biomass/ litter, providing a source of nitrogen to the soil (through nitrogen-fixing bacteria, for example), they promote erosion (i.e. rocks) and prevent it (i.e. through soil crusts), support vertebrates and invertebrates, contribute to soil and vegetation moisture and can affect plants around them by supporting them or competing with them (Cornelissen et al., 2007).
Autumn’s increased moisture and changing temperatures have brought on amazing growth in these miniature lichen scapes. They look just like coral reefs, in some places – although, of course, it’s on land. They have been described as miniature forests and spreading carpets by the Royal Botanic Gardens and that’s certainly what they look like. They are amazingly versatile forms of life that grow on many surfaces. You can find them on the soil of banks and cuttings, on both live trees and dead ones, on branches, on mosses and people-made objects as well as on the soil. The Australian National Botanic Gardens has a great resource explaining what lichens are and their significance in the ecosystem, as well where they grow and how.
But, describing lichens is also in terms of their growth form: whether they are fruticose (branched like miniature shrubs), crustose (crusts which lay flat), foliose (leafy) and squamulose (scaly or powdery).
Here are some of the lichen in a range of growth forms found in the Reserve at present.
Where to find them
There is a great deal of fruiting happening at present. Take a stroll along the George Toye Track around the reservoir, up towards Baringa Way, and down along the path back to the Coral Fern Walk. The mosses and liverworts are also quite rich along Coral Fern Walk.